Last year on May 31st we saw Google push Google Gears out the door, their open source browser extension project. One of their goals with the project was to provide a way for web applications to interact naturally with your desktop. More recently they decided to drop the “Google” part of the name and just go by “Gears” so that people realize that it’s for everyone to get involved with. People have accepted Gears well because it does offer amazing functionality and now Yahoo wants to do something similar with new software called Yahoo! BrowserPlus.
Like Gears, Yahoo says that Yahoo! BrowserPlus was designed to extend the capabilities of your web browser, “to make richer web experiences possible.” What they mean by this is that they want people to be able to drag and drop from their desktop to their browser. They want to make uploading files easier, and more efficient, and they say they want to “secure acquisition of feeds and information, and native desktop functions.” Sounds similar to Gears, doesn’t it?
Now we know that Gears has allowed web applications to come offline, so does this mean that Yahoo! will eventually use BrowserPlus to enable web apps to come offline? They could, and they’d be smart if they did. What both Google and Yahoo (and others) are trying to do is bridge the browser and the desktop together so that they don’t feel completely separate. Yahoo mentioned that they’d like to be able to support native desktop notifications which would be so nice – an example of how this could be used is with email. Say you have a Yahoo Mail account. When you received a new email message in your inbox, you would be able to receive a notification on your desktop saying so.
At this point Yahoo says that because it’s just a “Sneak Peek”, you can only run BrowserPlus on sites operated by Yahoo! or its partners, but once they’ve received some feedback and improve the software, they’ll open it up. They currently support Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac Leopard, and Mac Tiger (Intel only). It’ll definitely be interesting to see what kinds of web applications developers are able to come up with, that take advantage of Yahoo! BrowserPlus and have desktop capabilities.
To see BrowserPlus in action, checkout the Demos page where you can see how it’s used in a Photo Uploader for Flickr so that users can drag, crop, rotate, tag, and upload photos to Flickr from a web page. Two other demos are available (an IRC Client, and a JSON Inspector) as well.